Message from the City Librarian: Library’s Customer Base is Far from Eroding

In a recent Denver Post article by Vincent Carroll, he states, “… does it really make sense to relieve the city's budget woes by creating a permanent funding stream for the one service whose customer base is facing potentially drastic erosion? Before any tax reaches the ballot, let someone make that case.

As you can imagine, I have a very strong opinion about this. Libraries have been adapting to the world around them for the past century, and the surge of the digital age is no different. Libraries provide essential services to the public such as computer access and training, job-search assistance, literacy programs, and access to thousands of print and digital materials. They serve as the cornerstone of their community and are a key link in developing a knowledgeable, productive workforce and fostering economic development.

The increase in the use of eBooks does not mean that the library’s customer base is eroding, as Carroll’s article suggests. It means that libraries must offer this popular format in addition to the physical books which many are still using, and adapt to the changing needs of the public as they have for decades.

In 2010, the Denver Public Library welcomed over 4 million visitors, circulated 9 million items, and had 40 million online transactions -- hardly a sign of becoming obsolete. In fact, libraries across the country are seeing an increase in usage, not a decrease, especially in times of recession. According to a study by the American Library Association, over two thirds of Americans have a library card and visit a library 1.4 billion times a year. Every day, 300,000 Americans seek job-related help at a public library. It’s quite evident that libraries are not just places to hold books.

There has been an age-old debate over what the library of the future looks like. As long as there is a need for free and equal access to information – libraries will be around and will continue to adapt to the needs of the public.

In 1889, John Cotton Dana, DPL’s first city librarian, had the vision of making the Library “a center of public happiness.” He was a pioneer – bringing resources and services to the people. His main objective was to make the library relevant to the daily lives of the citizens, an objective that is still at the core of the Library’s mission.

But to prepare for the future needs of our community, the Denver Public Library must address a fundamental challenge in how it is funded. The Library, funded by the City of Denver’s General Fund has undergone major budget cuts for the past several years. This has led to drastic reductions in service hours, staff levels and purchase of new materials. With the impending cuts to the 2012 budget, our world-class library is in serious jeopardy.

The Denver Public Library is at a crossroads. We cannot continue to be at the mercy of the unpredictable ups and downs of the City’s budget. We need a long-term sustainable funding solution. Forming a library district has been viewed by communities across the state as the best form of governance for delivering consistently high-quality library service. A modest mill levy increase (about $56 per year on a $200,000 home) would make a tremendous difference in how we can provide service. All library locations would be open at least 40 hours per week, instead of the current 32. We would be able to provide the materials, technology and programs that our customers want and need. Most importantly, we’d be able to plan for our future without the constant threat of unknown budget cuts from year to year.

For more information about DPL’s budget situation and library districts visit:

Written by Shirley Amore on June 13, 2011


Anonymous on June 14, 2011


I LOVE the library


I would support the proposed library district idea and would certainly vote for it if it were on the ballot. Will it be on the ballot this November?


It is too soon for us to know if the library district will be on the November 2011 ballot, as this is something the new Mayor and City Council will need to decide. We do however appreciate your support and will keep the public posted as this issue develops.

Riccardo Schiaffino on June 14, 2011


I use the Denver Public library services all the time, and strongly support it (including through donations).

So I am of two minds about this article: one the one hand, I welcome the clear statement that the library is an essential service that should be defended and strengthened; on the other hand, the library has taken recently some actions that make a mokery of the words "world-class library". I am referring to the recent decision to get rid of many language collections (and chiefly, among them, the collection of Italian books): you cannot claim to be a "world-class library" if you do not have on your shelves Dante and Boccaccio, Pascoli and Alfieri, Calvino and Levi in the original.

In this time of budget constraints, I could certainly understand a decision not to purchase any longer for the time being new books in several languages... even including Italian. But why getting rid of the books you already had? I found (and rescued) several of them from the tables of the annual sale. They all showed they had been checked out may times, but were still in good conditions and able to be lent many more times.

The availability of the best literature in many languages is a corenerstone of culture; its purge from the shelves of the Denver Public Library is a crime against culture and, in my opinion, a truly barbaric act.


Rest assured, we do understand your concern over how we maintain the Library's collection. We don’t take these decisions lightly. We use our Collection Development Policy as a guide as we strive to maintain a collection that is relevant and well used by our customers. In part, the policy states "The Library’s collection is a living, changing entity. As items are added, others are reviewed for their ongoing value and may be withdrawn from the collection." Libraries everywhere struggle with defining the scope of what they collect and keeping their collections current and relevant, while still providing access to more specialized content. Because of changes in our budget and the community over the years, we stopped collecting items in Italian (as well as several other languages) years ago. Rather than maintain a static collection that was not well used, a decision was made to withdraw the items. One of the ways we can continue to provide access to this type of content is with our Interlibrary Loan service. We use this service to share resources with libraries around the state and the country whose collections may have a different scope than ours.


And FYI - many classic works in their original languages are currently located in the Literature area (the Dewey 800s) where books include the text in both the original language and also in English. Some of the authors you mentioned have works located there.

Heidi on June 14, 2011


I would love to see the library become a district, especially if it would improve the number of hours the libraries are open. I grew up in suburban Chicago and took it for granted that the public library was open 12 hours a weekday and 9-5 on the weekends; it's been an adjustment to have to check the website every time I want to go to the library to see if my branch is open. If I have to pay a dollar a week to ensure more reliable service, it's worth it to me.

Thanks to all the librarians for their service and professional commitment - I know the ups and downs are difficult for the staff even more than for the patrons.




 Hi Hugo,

Thank you for your interest. We know the library district is a new concept for many and there is a lot of information to learn.  In a nutshell, a library district is a separate library system which is NOT funded by the City, rather by a separate dedicated source of income, such as a voter-approved mill levy on property tax. A library district is not an agency of the City. It is a political subdivision of the State, and is governed by five to seven trustees who are appointed by the City Council. 

We have posted detailed information about library districts on our site, including the pros/cons and how it differs from our current status as a City agency.

Please let us know if you need further clarification, we are happy to answer any of your questions.


I am 27 years old, I shut off my television 6 years ago and recently took the plunge and dropped internet in my house. THEN, I discovered the central library! It's wonderful! I have read more books in the last month than in the last 5 years. Many of the movies I used to rent are there for free too!! Whoever declared the library as eroding might possibly have an eroding brain.. Go to the library!!!

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